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Wildlife

Centennial – On July 10 at Black Market Farm in Centennial, seven landowners were recognized by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) – one from each region – for their work in “demonstrating outstanding practices in wildlife management, habitat improvement and conservation techniques on their properties.”

According to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, landowners cooperate with WGFD to provide access for hunters and anglers on their property, as well as utilize practices that help to improve and promote wildlife. 

Award recipients are nominated by WGFD employees and selected by regional leadership teams to provide the gold standard for conservation, ethical use and stewardship of Wyoming’s natural resources. 

This year, Jason and Maureen Oedekoven of Campbell County, Siggins Polled Herefords of Cody, the A-A and Big Creek ranches of Encampment, Fayette Ranch of Pinedale, Thoman Ranch of Kemmerer, 77 Ranch of Lance Creek and Bitterroot Ranch in Dubois and Riverton were recognized for their efforts. 

Importance of ag

WGFD Director Scott Talbott commented, “An agricultural life was the foundation for many of our beginnings. For me, agriculture opened the doors to the wonders of wildlife.” 

He recalled his early childhood years where he learned to bait a hook, catch a trout, sight in his rife and participate in many family traditions.

“I also learned the need for and  the value of residual grass cover, the need to rotate pastures, proper utilization rates and the need of fertilization and irrigation, knowing if forage prospered, so did we,” he said. “Many of these agricultural practices are the same basic tenets we use to manage wildlife.” 

Oedekoven Ranch

Jason and Maureen Oedekoven of the Jason and Maureen Oedekoven Ranch on the banks of Bitter Creek in northwest Campbell County view conservation as a staple of ranch management, which is apparent for visitors to the ranch. 

“Their stretch of Bitter Creek is full of native birds, reptiles, amphibians, pheasants and deer raising their fawns,” said WGFD. The forests on the ranch are also teeming with wildlife, including mule deer, wild turkeys and the occasional elk.”

On the ranch, the family has implemented conservation measures, including by working with the Campbell County Conservation District, and they also encourage conservation in their community. 

Siggins Polled Herefords

Alan and Deanna Siggins carry on a ranching tradition that first started on the South Fork of the Shoshone River in 1914. While the ranch is home to species including elk, deer, antelope, gray wolves and grizzly bears, the Siggins also welcome hunters, even opening their hay meadows to hunters each fall. 

“Year after year, when hunters ask the Siggins family for permission, they willingly allow hunters to access prime hunting country,” WGFD explained. “They are friendly, inviting people who have maintained the traditional ranching way of life in northwest Wyoming.” 

A-A and Big Creek

The Gates family – on both the A-A Ranch and Big Creek Ranch – have been an important partner for WGFD for many years in the Platte Valley.

A-A Ranch is managed by Justin Howe in partnership with activities coordinator Benjy Duke, and Big Creek Ranch is managed by Mark Dunning. 

“Their conservation ethic and proper land management benefit their operations and provide healthy habitats for wildlife,” said WGFD. “Their attention to detail for riparian conditions, stream habitat, stream flow, fish passage and water temperatures have allowed them to properly conserve and protect the wild fisheries on their properties.”

In addition, the ranches provide critical habitat to mule deer, Bighorn sheep and sage grouse. 

Fayette Ranch

East of Pinedale, Fayette Ranch covers over 14,000 acres of irrigated land, sagebrush uplands and open space, where mule deer, moose, elk, pronghorn, sage grouse, waterfowl, raptors and songbirds all thrive. 

In addition to use of management strategies that help maintain habitats, the ranch, managed by Roy Wolaver, has a permanent public access easement that provides hunting, fishing and outdoor recreating opportunities by visitors from across the state and region. 

Thoman Ranch

Alfred and Shirley Thoman and Thoman Ranch were recognized for the work of their ranch 20 miles from Kemmerer near Nugget Canyon. The family raises sheep, dairy cows, horses and hay, and since 2003, they have worked with WGFD to allow public access for hunting, among other things. 

The family provides forage for big game on critical winter ranges and works to reduce crop damage. 

While Alfred has since passed away, WGFD commented, “Al and Shirley have always been great partners.” 

77 Ranch

In the Casper region, 77 Ranch actively works with a variety of groups – including WGFD, the Office of State Lands and Investments, conservation groups and more – to enhance the lands they own and lease. 

“Their stewardship and love of wildlife make them an easy and most deserving selection for this award,” said WGFD. 

Founded in the late 1800s, the ranch has a rich historic background, and they have been cooperating with WGFD for years to allow hunter access. The family was an inaugural participating family in the WGFD Access Yes program, and they have instituted walk-in hunting on the vast majority of their ranch. 

“Bud and Betty Jean Reed are clearly stewards of the land and wildlife,” said WGFD. “Their range and habitat conservation practices currently benefit their livestock operation and improve habitat for wildlife.”

Bitterroot Ranch

Bayard Fox and his wife Mel, along with their son Richard and daughter-in-law Hadley, operate the Bitterroot Ranch, which is a unique blend of a working cattle ranch and dude ranch. 

“Their ranch provides excellent habitat for Yellowstone cutthroat trout, pronghorn, mule deer, elk, moose, waterfowl and other wildlife,” WGFD explained.

They further note the ranch is actively engaged in improving aquatic habitats to support important fisheries on their land, and they also provide winter forage to sustain both their own cattle and horse herds and the wildlife that frequent the area. 

“Landowners preserve critical migration corridors, they improve habitat through costly enhancement projects, and they provide important access which allows for our hunting and angling heritage to continue into the future,” Talbott explained. “Today’s landowners are more than ranchers or farmers, they are key partners with the WGFD in carrying out our mission – ‘Conserving Wildlife – Serving People.’”

Saige Albert, managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, compiled this article from the 2018 Landowner of the Year annual banquet program. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The better job ranchers do managing their grazing land, the better the habitat for wild game birds like the Lesser prairie chicken, according to a research assistant with the Kansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. John Kraft told ranchers during the Nebraska Grazing Conference that lesser prairie chickens have variable habitat needs but prefer large, continuous grasslands or native prairie over the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and ditch lands preferred by their counterparts – grouse and pheasants.

“They select different habitats based on whether they are nesting or already have chicks,” Kraft says. 

In the spring, they prefer bare ground with a mixture of shrubs and sage-type vegetation. 

“They like spots on top of hills that are open so the males can display and be seen well,” he explains. 

When the birds are nesting, they are looking for areas with the most amount of cover because they don’t want to be seen at all. Once the chicks hatch, they are looking for a medium range of habitat and open ground, so the chicks can move around easier.

Grazing impacts

  The diversity of habitat needed by the birds concerns Kraft because contemporary grazing management strategies lean towards smaller pastures, shorter grazing periods and higher stocking densities. These strategies are becoming more popular among ranchers who want to more uniformly graze their grasslands. 

“As grazing strategies strive for uniformity in grazing pressure, habitat heterogeneity and biodiversity is sacrificed,” Kraft explains to producers. “Although some wildlife species reap benefits of homogenous or uniform grazing disturbance, the costs to species more reliant on variable vegetation structure are significant.” 

Creating more and better habitat for the prairie chicken can be accomplished through landscape heterogeneity, Kraft explains. 

Patch burn grazing

“Most commonly, patch-burn grazing has been the management regime of choice for creating landscape and pasture heterogeneity beneficial to grassland wildlife,” Kraft says, while admitting the technique lacks popularity among ranchers. 

Patch burn grazing is created by controlled burning of a part of the pasture and directing grazing pressure to a smaller part of the pasture to create highly used areas and lower used areas, he explains. 

“Studies have shown recently burned patches have higher forage quality than areas burned three years ago,” he notes.

Careful management

It may be possible to use careful grazing management as an alternative. He proposes developing pasture heterogeneity through livestock grazing management strategies like pasture deferment, pasture size and stocking density. Utilizing patch grazing, along with placing water and mineral in strategic locations and managing grazing pressure in multiple pastures can allow producers to better manage wild birds like the prairie chicken.

Kraft believes producers can use forage quality to drive grazing distribution. He believes producers tend to stock smaller pastures with more livestock, while larger pastures are typically understocked. 

“If they could stock these pastures so the most pressure is concentrated on high-quality forages, it would leave other areas that don’t have a lot of use,” he says. 

Robust habitat

Studies have shown that modest grazing utilization creates the most habitat for the prairie chicken, Kraft shares. 

“The optimum lesser prairie chicken habitat is what they will use the most. I think it follows the basis of take half, leave half,” he explains. 

The prairie chickens place nests in the most robust habitat, Kraft continues. 

“There is a low probability of nest placement when the availability of forage drops below 20 percent. However, 20 percent forage utilization creates a more desirable nesting habitat. Twenty percent isn’t as plausible as 40 to 45 percent to a beef producer, but it can create a full variant of habitat structure using these variables,” he explains. 

“The birds could be trying to select from both habitats at one time,” Kraft says. “One pasture might offer better nesting habitat, like switchgrass that hasn’t been grazed, next to good brooding habitat that has been grazed more.” 

“It is a matter of nest success versus bird survival,” he explains. 

“At higher stocking density, we won’t get the increase in heterogeneity, which is driven by grazing selectivity,” he says. “But, as pasture size increases, there is a higher probability of grazing habitat because we have a tendency to stock larger pastures lighter.” 

“With any increase in grazing pressure, we will see a drop-off in nesting habitat,” he adds.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Sheridan – Following a recent reorganization of World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Senior Program Officer for Ranching and Conservation Nancy Labbe said, “We are now set up around six goals. We found that with these goals, we can make impacts.”

Labbe noted that WWF’s new goals are to protect and restore species and their habitats; strengthen local communities’ ability to conserve the natural resources they depend upon; transform markets and policies to reduce the impact of production and consumption of commodities; ensure that the value of nature is reflected in decisions made by individuals, communities governments and businesses; and mobilize hundreds of millions of people to support conservation.

“My work with ranches revolves around goals to freeze the footprint of food and protect grasslands,” she said. 

Labbe discussed WWF’s perspectives with the attendees of the First Annual Ranch Sustainability Forum on May 14 in Sheridan.

Getting involved

WWF has begun to focus on ranching in its conservation efforts because of the opportunity available.

“This is perhaps the greatest conservation opportunity we have left in the U.S.,” Labbe commented. “Conservation communities have done a good job working on forests and mountains, but they aren’t as advanced when it comes to grasslands.”

However, Labbe noted that the tall grass prairies important to WWF are cared for by ranchers daily, and partnerships make sense.

Grasslands

“If we go back 200 years, there were enormous expanses of temperate grasslands,” Labbe explained. “These grasslands were filled with large, grazing mammals, such as bison, pronghorn and elk, and these populations have been dramatically decreased for a variety of reasons.”
Looking at North America specifically, Labbe noted that 90 percent of the tall grass prairie has disappeared, and the remaining prairies are concentrated in the Northern Great Plains.

“About three years ago, we had a meeting and said we have to figure out a way to protect the grasslands, which are under immense pressure,” she said. “We looked at a map, and the light came on when we saw that 76 percent of the land is owned by ranchers and the 17 percent that is public land is mostly managed by ranchers through grazing leases.”

The 183 million acres provides opportunity for WWF to work with ranchers. 

The seven percent of grasslands under tribal ownership also provides the chance for WWF to accomplish its goals, said Labbe, as tribal landholders seek reintroduction of animals. 

Threats

Labbe marked both oil and gas development and cropland conversion as pending threats in destruction of grasslands.

“The Northern Great Plains is under immense pressure,” she said. “The problem with oil and gas is that it creates roads and pads, dissecting the large grasslands. We are trying to prevent that.”

She further noted that high commodity prices, coupled with federal subsidies, influence conversion of grasslands to cropland. 

“With technology these days, we can grow crops where we couldn’t before,” Labbe explained. “The unintended consequence is that we are moving into the grasslands that many species depend on for viability.”

Helping out

“The good news is, we have really intact areas of grasslands still,” Labbe said. “There is about 42 million intact acres, with 74 percent private ownership and 18 percent public ownership.”

The principles of sustainable ranching work hand-in-hand with the goals of WWF, especially since private land ownership is a major factor.

“If we can keep ranchers viable on the land, then we will be less likely to plow that land under and develop it,” she explained. “We can bring market forces, to include economic and social viability, with sustainable ranching.”

Shared values

Labbe also noted that ranchers and WWF share similar values that help to accomplish the goals of both.

“The idea of generational transfer is important to us because it provides the knowledge base,” said Labbe, noting that, as ranchers transition between generations, the years of knowledge and understanding about the land are also passed on. “They know how to managed the land through grazing.”

She marked efficient cattle and a balance of wildlife also as important.

“There are lot of places we agree – probably 80 percent of what we are passionate about,” Labbe added. “Let’s work on the 80 percent that we agree on and not worry about the rest.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Casper – The Wyoming Wool Growers Association brought sheep producers from across the state to Casper for their 2017 Summer Membership Meeting on June 24-25, which hosted a variety of informative meetings ranging from practical management strategies to national programs.

Among the speakers during the event, USDA’s Wildlife Services Administrator Bill Clay provided an update on programs administered by the agency, including the aviation program and use of M-44 devices.

“We get a lot of criticism for our programs,” Clay said, noting that many activists try to paint Wildlife Services as an inhumane agency, “but we need all the tools we can get to control predators for producers.”

Flight

Wildlife Services aerial operations utilize 35 agency-owned, borrowed or leased fixed-wing and helicopter aircraft, employing 30 pilots. They also use 20 contractor-owned fixed-wing and helicopter aircraft with 20 contract pilots for predator control.

“After the airplane accident this winter in Wyoming where one pilot was killed and another critically injured, I asked for a review of our program from experts,” Clay said. “They came in early January to look at all aspects of our program, the type of training we provide, our training and operations center and more. They made a number of recommendations to strengthen our program.”

Since the review, Wildlife Services has made changes to equip all aircraft with flight monitoring devices.

“The plane that crashed in Wyoming did not have one, and it took two to three hours to locate that plane in sub-zero temperatures,” he explained. “Now, all of our planes are equipped with monitoring devices.”

In addition, Wildlife Services hired an additional employee, a full-time flight monitor.

“Whenever we are flying – anywhere in the U.S. – the flight monitor can see the plane, where it is, its altitude, how fast it’s flying, when it starts and stops and more,” Clay said. “If there is a problem with a plane, they know immediately.”

Now, all state programs that utilize planes for predator control are equipped with flight monitors and are involved with the National Aviation Safety, Training and Operations Center to monitor flights.

Clay emphasized, “Flying is critical. We have to do whatever we can to maintain the program.”

He also noted that, although such additions to the program mean additional cost, the new equipment and additional training strengthens the program.

“We need to be as safe as possible,” Clay said.

M-44

Also for predator control, Clay noted that the M-44 program has also been under fire recently, in the wake of several widely publicized events.

“We got a lot of attention in Oregon when an M-44 device killed a non-target wolf,” he said. “The wolf was not supposed to be in the area, and it was not listed as being in the area.”

Animal interest groups targeted Wildlife Services for the wolf’s death, and then, several weeks later, two Wyoming dogs were killed northwest of Casper with M-44 devices.

“Then, we also felt repercussions from an incident that happened just outside Pocatello, Idaho when an M-44 device was pulled by a dog, killing the dog,” Clay said. “The device also ejected the powder onto the boy’s clothing. He was taken to the hospital, observed and released.”

The result was a number of negative news article that mischaracterized M-44s and their use.

Additional precautions

Again, Wildlife Services began reviews of their program, and, at least until Sept. 1, the program requires a one-half-mile barrier between M-44 devices and occupied residences.

“In the West, this may not have much impact, but in eastern states, like West Virginia, this restriction has essentially eliminated our use of M-44s,” Clay said. “A producer in West Virginia told me that this would probably put him out of business because they have no other way to control coyotes.”

“M-44s are a very important tool, and we need all the tools we can get,” he continued. “They are canid specific, and we have a good safety record with M-44s.”

Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency performed an expansive review of the use of M-44s in the last decade, finding that the devices are an important tool to alleviate livestock depredation and the registration for the product should not be cancelled.

“We were asked to analyze M-44 use, where and how we use them, timing of use and non-target animal deaths so a final decision can be made on whether the buffer distance will be made permanent or not,” Clay explained.

One of the most challenging pieces of the effort is that new rules mean that private property owners are no longer in control of what happens on their own property, he added.

“We’ll see what happens when we turn in all our data, but right now, there are no plans to try to ban M-44s,” Clay commented.

Education

Among their other efforts, Wildlife Services will host three demonstrations and outreach workshops in Idaho to demonstrate M-44 use and restrictions in the state.

“Western Watersheds Project has indicated that they will protest the demonstrations,” Clay said. “Part of our problem with M-44s is that people don’t understand how the tools work.”

He also noted that they continue to work to ensure that M-44 devices are adequately noticed through the use of signage and that the devices are as far away from human dwellings as possible.

For example, they have changed the color of the signs indicating M-44 use to fluorescent orange, and internally, the positioning of signs has been changed from 25 feet away from devices to 15 feet.

“We’re going to make our signage more visible and ensure they are anchored securely in the ground,” Clay explained. “I think these steps help to improve the program and will allow us to keep using the devices.”

“My expectation is that we may have some restrictions,” Clay said. “We need to operate M-44s as safely as possible because they do present a risk, although it’s a low risk to people. Most of the people that come across M-44s are disregarding signs, trespassing or both.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Casper – In 2014, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association passed a resolution to look at additional authority regulating the gathering of antlers across the state, rather than only west of the continental divide.

“The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission was given the authority to regulate antler hunting on the west side of the continental divide on public lands,” said Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) Director Scott Talbott during the Wildlife Committee meeting at the 2015 Wyoming Stock Growers Association Winter Roundup on Dec. 1. “Prior to that, we were documenting particularly egregious behaviors.”

Regulations

To avoid harassment of animals during antler hunting, regulations were put in place.

“The legislature gave us the authority to set parameters on antler hunting seasons,” Talbott added. “It has certainly eliminated the egregious wildlife harassment issues we saw.”

He continued, “As the value of antlers increases and demand increases, we need to continue to take a look at what is appropriate or not through the legislative process regarding regulation of antler collection.”

WSGA Executive Vice President Jim Magagna noted, “We had a directive passed that WSGA staff were to seek legislation for authority to WGFD to regulate collection of antlers across the state as opposed to just west of the continental divide.”

WSGA submitted a letter to the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Committee requesting they move forward with legislation authorizing WGFD to regulate antler collection statewide, but the committee opted not to pursue action at this point.

“The discussion surrounding this issue raises some interesting points,” Magagna said.

Private property concerns

Magagna continued that, although the original WGFD authority came as a result of wildlife harassment, “Our interest is in stopping trespass on private lands. That raises some fundamental questions that need to be addressed at the legislative level.”

The primary question that must be answered is who owns the antlers.

“These antlers are a product of wildlife in Wyoming,” Magagna explained. “Does that mean they are under the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission? In that case, it would be appropriate for the legislature to direct the WGFD to manage the gathering – and perhaps license it, as well as to address trespass that occurs.”

Conversely, he also noted that it could be argued that after antlers fall off wildlife, they are no longer a part of the wildlife or under the ownership of the state.

“I could make the argument that, on private land, they become the property of the landowner,” Magagna said. “If that is the case, there may be felony theft convictions if antlers are taken from private land. If the antlers fall off onto public lands, then in who’s ownership do they fall?”

The question is wrought with issues, and Magagna said, “I think we need to take time to work through the more fundamental issues.”

With the value of antlers increasing, WSGA member Garrett Falkenberg of Douglas noted that a trespass fine of $400 isn’t incentive to not trespass for antlers worth upwards of $1,000.

“In that case, we aren’t going to teach these people anything for trespassing,” Falkenberg said. “We’ve just hardened the criminal because they are making money.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..